‘Trailblazing’ local association marks 65th anniversary
Community Living Kirkland Lake ‘did a lot of ground-breaking work’
Friday September 21, 2012 -- Natalie Hamilton
From bringing to life a vision of education for children who have an intellectual disability to helping people transition from long-term care to community homes, Community Living Kirkland Lake has been blazing trails for decades.
On Sept. 27, the local association celebrates its 65th anniversary. About 120 staff and volunteers will gather for an informal annual general meeting (AGM) to mark the special event.
During the meeting, Community Living Ontario board member Betty Stone will present Community Living Kirkland Lake with a certificate honouring the milestone.
Keith Dee, director of membership services for Community Living Ontario, says the local association has “been trailblazing” since its infancy stages.
“They did a lot of ground-breaking work in Kirkland Lake,” Dee says.
Back in 1947, the association -- which is one of nine founding members of Community Living Ontario -- focused on providing educational opportunities for children who had an intellectual disability. Prior to then, nothing existed in Canada or the United States to support their needs.
That all changed when local resident and teacher Don Frisby, who said all children could learn and were worthy of an education, spearheaded an effort to ultimately create the first experimental class for children who had a disability. From there, word of the school’s success spread across Canada.
While it’s difficult to sufficiently capture all of the accomplishments of 65 years, Community Living Kirkland Lake executive director Heather Topliss says there has been marked improvement related to the inclusion of people who have an intellectual disability in the Kirkland Lake community.
For instance, Community Living Kirkland Lake was charged with moving long-term care home residents into community settings in 1989 when the local Extendicare home closed. Between 1990 and 1993, the association hired 60 staff and found homes for 45 residents. There were some unwelcoming reactions from people who lived near the group homes and apartments Kirkland Lake established.
Today, “the community is fantastic,” Topliss says.
“They do a lot for us.” Community Living Kirkland Lake will in fact be recognizing some of their community partners and inclusion champions during the AGM.
The depopulation of the long-term care home is a substantial piece of the organization’s history. Prior to 1990, Community Living Kirkland Lake had only a supported independent living program, an eight-bed group home, a children’s residence and an ARC Industries workshop.
The association followed the government’s lead and later dismantled the ARC Industries program in a move to close sheltered workshops. They began offering supports to people through a day program and supported employment programs.
Over the years, as funding for the developmental services sector has decreased, Community Living Kirkland Lake has had to respond creatively.
“Now we have to find ways to support people with less funding,” Topliss says. “We as an agency are now community-based.”
People who access support from Kirkland Lake today take part in seasonal activities of their choice in the community.
The association defines itself as being “dedicated to providing meaningful support, service and advocacy for individuals who have an intellectual disability and their families.
“Our purpose is to assist each person in pursuing goals and supporting to the greatest extent possible their involvement and inclusion in the full community by promoting acceptance, understanding and shared responsibility, in order to maximize the potential of everyone.”
This year, Community Living Kirkland Lake received a four-year accreditation from Focus Accreditation, which is a source of pride for Topliss that will also be celebrated at the AGM.
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